My own definition of adulting is the idea of a person who can put the needs of others before themselves. They can make rational decisions, but they continue to grow by making mistakes and reflecting on them. They take responsibility, show kindness, and have a sense of who they are and what (or who) makes them feel joyful. They may still be a vibrant dancer, a hot mess, a spontaneous crier, or as forgetful as they come, but they are, fundamentally, a person who contributes positively to society.
This year, at some point, many of us have caught ourselves in a negative cycle and then suddenly declared that, by comparison, we know we’re very lucky. But in fact, we should encourage one another to identify our feelings and not invalidate them by diminishing their relative importance. The way we feel drives our behaviours, our productivity, our ability to connect with others, and our contentment, and it’s very healthy to express our negativity rather than harbour it. On the other hand, finding balance must be key. Indulging in a perpetually-negative mindset will not improve your wellbeing.
As recently as April 2020, The World Bank has reported that at least 10% of the world’s population are afflicted by mental illness or substance disorders. This percentage increases in countries that face the threat of violence or conflict. We can all benefit from embracing a sense of global perspective. With so much instability and uncertainty, we need to consider the smallest of victories and remember that there are 7.8 billion other people in the world, whose lives are equally as important as our own.
This perspective shift can be driven by the smallest of practices. The University of Massachusetts conducted a study based on the effects of using a Gratitude Journal consistently. The results are presented on The Resilience Project website, stating that in just 21 days of practising gratitude, you ‘rewire your brain to start scanning the world for the positive’, and ‘you become three times more likely to notice a positive’ than a negative. These impacts are extrapolated, and after 42 days the results can be as dramatic as experiencing lower levels of depression and anxiety, as well as greater focus, determination, and immunity to illness. There are several apps for recording gratitude, but you can also express gratitude verbally or (gasp!) record your thoughts by hand.
Laura Henshaw, co-founder of the fitness and lifestyle brand Keep It Cleaner, introduced me to a simple trick to encourage daily gratitude. Try replacing the phrase ‘I have to’ with ‘I get to’. For example, ‘I have to cook dinner’ could be replaced with ‘I get to cook dinner’. It is always humbling to remember how lucky we are to have nutritious food in our home.
As a teacher, I was always encouraged to allow students to reflect on their learning experiences. One of my favourite reflection tools was a simple statement: ’At first I thought … but now I know…’. Essentially, it encourages a student — or anyone, for that matter — to consider that the knowledge or perception we may have initially, can and should change through our experiences. This can be applied to everyday activities, including cooking (at first I thought I could microwave sauce without a lid over the bowl, but now I know it’s a disaster waiting to happen!) and productivity (at first I thought this task would be arduous, but now I know how good it feels just to do it!)
It’s not only important to reflect on daily activities. Reflecting on our greater goals and core values in life provides us with a sense of meaning. Laurie Santos, a professor at Yale University, teaches a course called The Science of Wellbeing. Among many practical rewirement exercises, she shares the results from various studies conducted to measure what affects people’s wellbeing. One study, repeated 20 years apart, reported that people’s materialistic attitudes harmed their overall life satisfaction. These materialists were also found to have suffered more from mental health disorders. Thus, the more you strive to have a better car or nicer clothes, the less satisfied in life you will feel. Furthermore, she explains that extreme physical changes, including cosmetic surgery and high expectations of our appearance, does not improve happiness. It’s so challenging to ignore the pull of consumerism, but try deleting social media accounts that don’t promote authenticity. Remind yourself that you are enough, and what you have is enough, and the grass is only greener where you water it.
In our quest to reach ‘successful adulting’ status, we may be fooled into thinking that an adult is happy because they have life ‘figured out’. I genuinely believe that life would be ever-so-dull should we feel we have it perfected, and therefore let’s take the advice of professor and author Brené Brown, and “lean in and feel it all”.
If you don’t know quite where to start, try leaning into these ideas:
Slow down. Be still. Embrace the quiet. Turn off your phone. Walk in nature. Chat with someone who fills your soul. Turn the music up. Drink water. Keep your health checks up-to-date. Spend time with an animal. Perform a random act of kindness. Do it again. Compliment yourself. Write down your greatest passions, then make them all a priority. Say ‘yes’. Say ‘please’. Admit that you made a mistake. Tell people what you love about them.
Be kind to yourself...